Manson, Marilyn (originally, Warner, Brian)

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Manson, Marilyn (originally, Warner, Brian)

Manson, Marilyn (originally, Warner, Brian), one of the great (and most controversial) rock showmen of the 1990s; b. Canton, Ohio, Jan. 5,1969. The son of a nurse and a Vietnam-veteran-turned-furniture-salesman, ex-Catholic schoolboy Brian Warner moved to Fla. in his late teens and started working as a music critic. In 1989, he formed a band with his friend Scott Putesky. Warner called himself “Marilyn Manson,” Putesky became “Daisy Berkowitz,” their stage names blending the mystique of Hollywood stardom with a fascination with serial killers (Marilyn [Monroe]/ [Charles] Manson). Adding bassist Gidget Gein, keyboard player Madonna Wayne Gacy, and drummer Sara Lee Lucas, they started playing around Fla. and selling self-produced tapes. Their show featured elaborate but homemade special effects and Gothic overtones, heavily emphasizing a nihilistic message. Their theatrics and heavy rock earned them a huge following in Fla.

In 1993, Nine Inch Nails’ frontman Trent Reznor offered the group a recording deal with his newly formed Nothing Records and an invitation to open for his band. The group replaced Gein with Twiggy Ramirez, and released its first album in 1994, Portrait of an American Family. As with Nine Inch Nails’ projects, the record was produced by Reznor and mixed in the house formerly owned by film director Roman Polansky and his late wife, actress Sharon Tate. The band hit the road with Nine Inch Nails. Antics like Manson’s highly publicized ordination as a minister in the Church of Satan and his ripping up a copy of the Book of Mormon on stage in Salt Lake City earned the band notoriety for its image along with its music, a pummeling blend of industrial and goth. This mixture, along with Manson’s high-visibility iconoclasm, earned him a devoted following among disaffected suburban youth.

The mainstream became more aware of Manson and his band with the release of the Smells Like Children EP a year later. Their send-up cover of The Eurythmies’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” became a fixture on MTV, and the EP eventually went platinum. Berkowitz left the band shortly after this, eventually suing the group for being excluded from the record (he settled out of court). Zim Zum replaced him. The band’s next release, 1996’s Antichrist Superstar, debuted on the charts at #3, shipping platinum. The more popular Manson became, the more controversial he was; his concerts often drew picket lines of concerned Christians. He wrote an autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, with New York Times critic Neil Strauss, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine as a symbol of his generation’s lack of a “moral center.”

Severing creative ties with Reznor, the band’s next album, 1998’s Mechanical Animals, eschewed the pounding industrial sound and emphasized more glam-oriented music. It featured a photograph of Manson on the cover with artificial breasts, six fingers, and air-brushed genitália. The song “The Dope Show” became an alternative hit. Again, the album shipped platinum. The band went on tour with Courtney Love’s band, Hole, only to have an onstage war of words break out between the two bands; Hole dropped out of the bill. While they were on the road, two Columbine, Colo, teens shot up their high school, killing several teachers and students, then themselves; the boys citied Manson’s website as an inspiration for their act. This put a further damper on the tour, but the group did capture several shows for a live album, The Last Tour on Earth.


With N. Strauss, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (N.Y., 1997).


Portrait of an American Family (1994); Smells Like Children (1995); Antichrist Superstar (1996); Mechanical Animals (1998); The Last Tour on Earth (live; 1999).

—Hank Bordowitz